Sunday, April 17, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Mud Chasers 3.5, Sparks MD

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I had just finished a marathon, and this was just a 5K. What could go wrong?

This was my thought process in signing up for the Mud Chasers event at Sparks, Maryland. No problem.

I'm not sure I've ever underestimated anything so badly. I'm calling this a race report so that I get some more page views, but this really isn't a race; it's an adventure. I'm not sure if was a good adventure or a bad adventure, just that it was indeed an adventure.

Let's just admit upfront that my preparation for this was minimal. I've been running regularly since the marathon, sticking to two 7-8 mile courses near my home, and putting up some very fast (for me) times. I haven't been lazy by any means, but I haven't gotten myself back into any sort of lifting routine or even gone over to the playground and climbed around on the monkey bars to prep for the obstacles.

Since the course was small and winding through a field, they wisely have groups starting every hour. I was in the 10:00 wave, and I arrived at the parking area around 9:15. I took the shuttle over to the race area, which was judged to be too muddy for people to park at, and then picked up my packet. I was ready to go at about 9:55, and at this point a race official told me and a few others who had walked to the starting area, "Don't wait for a 10:00 start, just go."

The course turned out to be 3.5 miles rather than a standard 5K, but that wasn't an issue. The issue was my complete underestimation of the sheer muddiness of "Mud Chasers".

Things get off to a quick start, the first obstacle, within the first minute of the race, is "The Pits", several pits of muddy water separated by mounds of mud. Unless someone chose to skip this obstacle ( you were allowed to skip any obstacle, but supposedly would be disqualified from winning a prize) there was no way to avoid getting completely soaked and muddy. The water was FREEZING and so I tried to get through as quickly as possible, leaping from the top of each mound as far out into the water as I could. I, who ran a marathon not even a month ago, was super winded after this.

The next obstacle was "Camel Hills", mounds of dirt/mud without the water between, followed by a Hay Pyramid. As tough as any obstacle was the general condition of the course; there were many sections of the course where I
was running or sliding or twisting my ankles through ankle deep slop courtesy of this week's monsoon season, which thankfully took the day off today. "There is really nothing at all fun about this", I thought to myself, a sad Panda.

About halfway through the course, we reached my favorite part -- three climbing obstacles, two using rope ladders and one just a plank wall. Going into the race, the climbing was where I thought I would struggle, but was the most exhilarating and enjoyable part of the course. The sun and wind had dried me off a bit, and I started to think to myself "Now THIS is fun!"

Sadly, it would not last. Soon after the last climbing obstacle was "The Trenches", a series of muddy water-filled pits separated by mud mounds, with ropes hanging over the pits at about a height of 3 feet. There were two strategies for crossing this obstacle: 1) walking through and ducking the ropes, or 2) crawling through on hands and knees. I immediately applied strategy 1, much to the derision of the volunteers stationed beside the trenches. Being extremely susceptible to peer pressure, I switched to strategy 2, much to their delight and my misery.

Soaked again, I continued around the course. The worst of the obstacles were over at this point. According to the map, there was supposed to be a pond to wade through, but I didn't see ANYONE do this and the course markers appeared to go beside it -- maybe conditions were too bad for them to allow it, because what the heck, I couldn't have possibly gotten more wet -- and also a fire pit to leap over. This would have been pretty hardcore, and maybe I would dried a bit.

The last third of a mile (I'm estimating -- now way was I risking Garmin on this thing) wound mostly up a steep hill, and then leveled off in sight of the finish line. Everything looked fine, except as I crested the last little ridge, I saw there was one more sticky mud pit at the finish line. Of course my shoes got stuck and I plopped over. There were a few middle-school aged kids watching the finish who were yelling at me "go faster!" and laughing as I got stuck. I like kids, and I don't think I'm a mean person, but I really wish I had thrown some mud on them and it was somewhat difficult to hold back the expletives. (There was a kids' mud run, which looked pretty serious, but they didn't appear to be participating in either)

(At least my face is clean...right?)

I'm not sure I've ever been quite so happy to see a finish line. My time was somewhere around 38 minutes, but I'm not especially concerned with it. I survived, relatively intact. Though I was sure as I was running that I'd sprained both ankles, it appears that some cuts on my knees are the extent of my wounds. Update -- Race results say I finished in under 28 minutes. Did I misread my watch for forget to re-set it at the beginning from something else? Or are the official results wrong? I'm not sure. It felt a lot more like 38 than 28. 3.5 in 28 is really, really fast for me regardless of terrain. That can't possibly be right.

(One of my clients makes a medication for complicated Skin Structure Infections {cSSI}
usually resulting from a staph infection. My cut isn't bad, but I fear infection.)

Overall, it was a lot of fun -- but it was one of the things that's a lot of fun afterward and not so fun while you're in the middle of it. I think that's true of a lot of running events, though. It was a unique experience for me and I'm glad I tried it.

Lessons Learned

1) I nailed it in terms of clothing -- don't wear any expensive moisture wicking gear. Wear your oldest shirts and cheapest pair of shorts. I'm not sure yet if the clothes I wore are ruined, but I'm definitely glad I didn't sacrifice something I paid decent money for. If you go to one of these and plan to hang out for awhile afterward, a dry shirt is a must. I saved mine for the car ride home. I forsook Garmin in favor of my trusty Timex Ironman watch. I wish I hadn't even bothered with that, though it appears to have survived unscathed.

2) My shoe selection was not so good. I wore an old pair of Adidas Supernova Glides, which had taken me through a great summer of 5Ks in 2008. They're probably ruined, but that's ok, since they're neither my current running shoes or a more recently-retired pair that serve as my everyday sneakers. The problem was that my ankles were just rolling all over the place -- I can't believe they're not sprained. I saw people running in everything from combat boots to barefoot, and I think something with more ankle support would have been best for me.

(These were once a great pair of running shoes,
just like the Orioles were once a great baseball team.)

3) I can't control the weather of course, but if I do a race like this again, I think I'd hope for warmer weather. I love running in the cold, but being soaked to the bone on a chilly, windy morning is miserable. If today were 80 degrees, it would have felt nice. Of course, during the summer, my fear of snakes may have paralyzed me. In one sense I'm glad I was in one of the first heats, because I think for the people running later in the day when the course is even more torn up might have it even worse. I'm not sure if the general muddiness of the course, not counting the obstacles, was good or bad. I slid all over and was afraid I'd sprained my ankles, but the unevenness of the terrain might have been even more treacherous if the ground were dry.

(This isn't near the course. It's the Conewago Creek, about a mile from my house,
just to show how much rain we've had this week.)

4) This is perfect as a group activity, but less fun by oneself. The people who had the most fun seemed to be the ones who ran with people they knew whether they ran in a group to either help each other or make fun of each other, or just ran at their own paces and met up at the beer garden to swap stories. I chatted with people during the run, but part of the post-race enjoyment was lost for a solitary runner.

5) I congratulate the sadistic bastard who designed the course. Just as I was dry and starting to feel comfortable, there was another obstacle to drench me again. The sticky mud pit at the finish line was positively evil. My hat is off to you, sir.

Conclusion & Event Review
I know a lot of people who have signed up for races like this: Warrior Dash comes most easily to mind. After doing one, I really don't think this is my cup of tea. That said, I could be talked into trying another one, and I think every runner should probably do it once.

I can't speak to how this stacks up to other mud run events, and someone with military/bootcamp experience, which I think races like this are supposed to offer a taste of, would probably chuckle at the obstacles, but I can review it as an event. It was a good one, but there's room for improvement in future years:

1. More post-race food would have been a plus. I paid $60 for this race, which is a lot for this distance. I understand that it costs a lot more and takes a lot of time to set up compared to a regular road race and that this benefited a local fire company, but water, bananas, bagels, etc. for finishers would have been appreciated. I did see a table of such items set up for the kids, but if there was one for the regular race finishers, I missed it. (In which case I apologize.) There was catering by Hightopps, a local sports bar with excellent food. I bought a very, very good hot dog for $2 and their were burgers and roast beef sandwiches available as well.

2. The schwag for this race was good. Schwag is very important in choosing races, so that's no small factor. The t-shirt is nice, but the star of the race goodies show is the Mud Chasers beer mug. The bottle-opener dog tag is very plain. I wish it had come with a chain, and that it had a Mud Chasers logo on it.

3. Beer garden. Any race that includes free beer at the finish is ok with me. That said -- MGD64? I just ran through mud and obstacles, and you think I care about calories? I'm not dreaming of Chimay, but something other than the lightest beer in existence would have been awesome. Miller Lite would be fine. (Oops, I failed to notice that MGD64 was one of the sponsors.) Perhaps since my last race included unlimited supplies of Yuengling post-race, that I am spoiled for life. I'm splitting hairs, of course, free beer is always appreciated. If you wanted additional beer beyond the free one, Blue Moon was also available at reasonable prices.

4. Assorted -- bag check was great and very helpful at a race like this. The bands seemed very fun, too. I didn't stick around too long, but had I been with a group, this had all the making of something to hang around for awhile at. All the volunteers were super, super nice, and overall the event was one that I'd recommend for both families and lone idiots, like me, of any age.

(No, it wasn't.)


  1. Just finished this race today in Monkton, MD. It was not well run at all. One mud pit at the end, very long lines at the registration tables due to the fact that they only had two people working them and no beer. There was no bag check to be found either! I will try another one of these types of races, but will probably look for one run by another outfit. They also ran out of the nicer tee-shirts and started giving out very plain white ones with black logo. I registered for this race months ago and feel like I should have gotten the size I asked for and one of the nicer ones. Anyway, it sounds like I would have enjoyed the race you did a lot more!

    1. Wow...I wouldnt have wanted to do a Mud Chaser or similar on a day this chilly. There were some organizational issues when I ran it last year in Sparks, but sounds like it was a real mess today.

    2. Wow! I actually just saw some of the comments on their facebook page. It looks like there were a LOT of problems at this event. I'm surprised, the one I ran in April 2011 was far from perfect, but I'd say it was a good event.